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The Parent Trap: Falling Prey To Those We Love
Video 3 of 4
What I want to do with you now is to expand the scope of the story that we have begun to see. So until this point I've shown you that mother bird themes, ideas, and words play an important role in the end of the Yaakov and Eisav story. What I want to now show you is that these mother bird themes animate almost the entirety of the Yaakov and Eisav story. In the coming video I want to actually do three things with you. The first; show you some of these resonances of mother bird themes earlier in the Yaakov and Eisav story. The second; raise a number of basic questions about the Yaakov and Eisav story, and the third; show you the interplay between these last two things. In other words, show you how the mother bird themes might help us resolve those questions we raised. Once we're done I think we'll have ourselves an astonishing new look at the meaning of the Yaakov and Eisav story as a whole.
Okay, so here we go. Until now we focused on the mother bird themes that seemed to echo in Yaakov's prayer to G-d before he meets up with Eisav. I want to back up with you now just a few verses and look at what immediately precedes that prayer; Yaakov's decision to send messengers to Eisav to let him know that he would like to see him. Now if we read the Torah's description of that and pay close attention to the words, I think we're going to have the sneaking suspicion that the mother bird themes are hovering over this episode too.
Vayishlach Yaakov malachim lefonov el Eisav achiv artzah Se'ir, sedei Edom - so Yaakov sent messengers before him to Eisav his brother, to the land of Se'ir, to the fields of Edom. Now listen to those words and compare them to the mother bird law. Yaakov had sent messengers - Vayishlach Yaakov, that verb to send is one of the key verbs of course of the mother bird law; Shalei'ach teshalach et ha'eim - send the mother. So Yaakov sends these messengers. But they're not any old messengers, perhaps. The word Malachim even though it could mean messenger, also happens to be the Hebrew word for angel. Leading to the possibility that what Yaakov might have been sending were angels, and what do angels look like? Angels are winged messengers. So here Yaakov is sending these winged creatures - the mother bird law is about sending birds and Yaakov is sending these winged creatures too.
And, as it turns out, the very next word in the Yaakov and Eisav story reminds you of the mother bird law too. Where does Yaakov send these messengers? He sends them; Lefonov. That word also borrows from the mother bird law; Ki yikareh kan tzipor lefanecha - when a bird's nest appears before you. So, so far that's three straight connections to the mother bird and followed by a fourth. The angels go to Artzah Se'ir - the land of Se'ir. That word just happens to appear in the mother bird law when the text goes out of its way to tell you that the nest might not be; B'kol etz - in the trees, it also might be; O al ha'aretz - or on the earth, on the land, that the nest might be there too. So all of these elements; Vayishlach, Malachim, Lefonov, Artzah, one after another, they all seem to be picked out of this mother bird language.
Okay so it's one thing to see these parallels, it's another thing to have any clue what it is that they mean. Why is it that Yaakov's sending of messengers to his brother is being construed by the Torah in these tones that evoke the law of the mother bird later on in Deuteronomy? It's just seems very puzzling.
Okay, so I said before at the very beginning of this video that aside from all of these mother bird allusions that you get in the Yaakov and Eisav story, there are these strange questions in the Yaakov and Eisav story that I think we need to pay attention to also. Let me point out a couple to you.
Number one, we were talking about Yaakov sending these messengers to his brother Eisav. So question number one is why does he have to do that in the first place? I mean, why go out of your way to alert Eisav that you're coming? But beyond all that, I mean listen to what he sends to Eisav. Listen to the story that the messengers are supposed to tell his brother. They're supposed to say: Koh omar avdecha Yaakov - thus says your servant Yaakov; Im Lavan garti va'eichar ad atah - I was in Lavan's house, took me a long time to kind of catch up with you; Vayehi li shor v'chamor v'tzon v'eved v'shifcha - and I have all this stuff: I have oxen, I have donkeys, I have sheep, I've got servants and maidservants. Va'eshlecha l'hagid l'adoni limtzo chen b'einecha - I just thought I'd send word to you and tell you about this so that you'd be so happy for me.
I mean, what exactly is that about? Let's remember the last encounter between these two men, the last encounter between them was an act of deception, where Yaakov stole the blessing that was supposed to go to his brother Eisav and Eisav was furious about it and wanted to kill him. And what was in that blessing? It was a promise of material wealth. So of all things, you're going to go to your brother and say, hey, haven't seen you in a while, I got this all stuff: I've got oxen, I've got donkeys, I've got maidservants, you name it I got it. Just thought I'd let you know bro. I mean what's the deal with that? Does he want to get himself killed? Why is he saying that? And in fact, you know it doesn't seem to work. The messengers report that they've delivered the message to Eisav and now he's coming to greet you Yaakov, with 400 men. Well, doesn't sound like Eisav took to that message very kindly, did he? What was Yaakov thinking? So that's question number one.
Okay, here's the next question. Let's back up just a few verses. What happens immediately before Yaakov decides to send these messengers to his brother? Right before that, we get a little incident which seems entirely irrelevant, why is it even here? Let me read to you what happens. Here's Yaakov, he's on his way back from his father-in-law Lavan's household and we get this in the verses. V'Yaakov halach ledarko - so Yaakov went along his way; Vayifge'u bo malachei Elokim - and messengers of G-d, angels, met up with him. Vayomer Yaakov ka'asher ra'am - and Yaakov, when he saw them, said; Machanei Elokim zeh - this is nothing but the camp of G-d; Vayikra shem hamakom hahu Machanayim - and he called the name of that place Machanayim.
And here's the question, why is this episode even here at all? The whole episode, it just happens but then it just disappears into the night, you never hear about these angels ever again, you never even hear why this is so important. Who cares about this, this obscure meeting between Yaakov and a couple of angels? We have no idea what they said to him, we have no idea if there was any message at all, he just sees them. Hello, goodbye, who cares?
And of course, here's something else that's intriguing. Right after these Malachim - these messengers of G-d, come and meet up with Yaakov, the very next thing that happens is; Vayishlach Yaakov malachim lefonov - Yaakov sends messengers of his own to Eisav. It makes you wonder, was there one group of messengers or one group of angels, or two? Might it have been that the very messengers of G-d that encountered Yaakov as he was leaving the house of Lavan, it was those that Yaakov then turned around and sent to his brother? And if so, what do we make of that?
In order to piece all of this together, I believe we need to continue our project of sort of going backwards in the Yaakov and Eisav story even further. We've talked about Yaakov's encounter with Eisav, we've talked about the prayer which he makes to G-d before the encounter, we've talked about these angels or messengers that he sends to Eisav before that, we've talked about these angels that meet Yaakov before that. But we actually need to go back even further in the story to almost the genesis of the problems between Yaakov and Eisav; the moment of the deception itself and its immediate aftermath.
Let's take a look at that episode right now and I think we'll find some interesting questions that we may have about it, and some interesting mother bird allusions too.
Okay so back to the deception story. Yaakov dresses up as Eisav, deceives his father, gets the blessing and in the immediate aftermath of that here's what happens. Eisav learns that Yaakov has stolen the blessing from him and the text says; Vayistom Eisav et Yaakov al ha'beracha asher bercho aviv - Eisav hated Yaakov with a deep, abiding hatred for the blessing that his father had blessed him; Vayomer Eisav belibo - so Eisav says in his heart; Yikrevu yemei eivel avi - soon my father will die; V'ahargah et Yaakov achi - and then I shall kill my brother Yaakov.
Now let me ask you a question, did anyone hear him say that? If you look carefully at the text the answer would have to be no. Vayomer Eisav belibo - and Eisav said in his heart; Yikrevu yemei eivel avi. You, the listener, know that Eisav is thinking this because the narrator is telling it to you, but at the time none of the participants in the story hear this, Eisav is saying it to himself in his heart. So then look at the next words of the text, they're astounding. Vayugad l'Rivkah et divrei Eisav benah ha'gadol - and it was told to Rivkah, the words of Eisav her older child. Now who exactly told this to her? It seemed impossible that she would have known, the Torah just went out of its way to say that Eisav didn't tell anyone. So Rashi comments over here that it must have been some sort of angelic messenger or some sort of Divine communication to her.
And you know normally if Rashi would say something like that, you would say, oh well that's a Midrashic kind of spin on things but it's not the simple meaning in the text. But over here it really seems like it's the simple meaning of the text because the text itself obviates any other possibility; Eisav didn't tell anyone so there's no one who could have told her. It's almost like, to borrow an expression, a little birdie came and told her. And lest you think I'm being extra cute with that, if you listen carefully to Rivkah's words to Yaakov now, you'll hear echoes of the mother bird one more time. Little birdies seemed to be present all over the place here.
Vayugad l'Rivkah et divrei Eisav benah ha'gadol - and it was told to Rivkah what Eisav her older child had said; Vatishlach vatikra l'Yaakov - so she sends and she calls for Yaakov to tell him about the danger. But listen to those words; Vatishlach vatikra l'Yaakov. Pay attention to the opening verbs in the law of the mother bird and you're going to find them here too. Vatishlach vatikra - she sends and calls for him; Shalei'ach teshalach et ha'eim - send, yes send, the mother. And; Ki yikareh kan tzipor lefanecha, spelled with an Aleph, Ki yikareh literally means when a bird calls out to you. What does Rivkah do? She calls out and sends for Yaakov, her young child.
What does she tell him to do? Vatomer eilav - and she says to him; Hinei Eisav achicha mitnachem lecha lehargecha - Eisav, he's plotting to kill you; V'atah beni shema b'koli - and now my son listen to my voice; V'kum berach lecha el Lavan achi Charana - go take refuge with my brother Lavan in Charan. Veyashavta imo yamim achadim - stay with him just for a few days; Ad asher tashuv chamas achicha - until the anger, the burning, smoldering hatred of your brother abates. Yes; Ad shuv af achicha mimcha - until his anger passes; V'shachach et asher asita lo - until he forgets what it is that you've done to him. Then I promise you my son; V'shalachti u'lekachticha misham - I will send for you and I will take you from there, I will bring you back to me then when it's safe. This is her promise to him.
But listen to the verbs here. V'shalachti u'lekachticha misham - and I will send for you and I will take you back from there. Sending, taking, these are the mother bird verbs too. Shalei'ach teshalach et ha'eim, Loh tikach ha'eim al ha'banim - SEND the mother, don't TAKE the mother upon children. She says, I'll SEND for you, I'll TAKE you back. It's all suffused with mother bird imagery. Why?
And the answer is, because this is the quintessential mother bird story. Who is Rivkah? She is Yaakov's mother. What is she trying to do? She's trying to carry out the sacred calling of a mother, to keep her young safe. The mother bird law hinges upon the mother's willingness to do anything to keep her child safe and that is exactly the sacrifice that Rivkah is prepared to make to safeguard the life of her child of Yaakov. Only in her case, her sacrifice, is the precise reverse image of the mother bird's. The mother bird stays with her young, hovering over the nest, prepared to sacrifice her life in a futile attempt to protect her young from overwhelming force. Rivkah will now do the reverse. She will separate from her child in a successful attempt to preserve his life.
Sometimes the only way a mother can save her child is by letting go, by saying goodbye to him, perhaps forever. And that choice is every bit as bitter as the choice for death itself. So yes, if you are a mother bird your instinct says to stay and fight even if that fight is futile, even if you will die in the process, and that's what a mother bird will do. But if you are a mother human, possessed with a cognitive ability to analyze a situation, sometimes you make the opposite choice, equally painful, a choice to separate from your child. A choice that flies against every instinct of a mother to stay with a child but you know with your mind that you must because this in fact is the only way you can successfully keep your child safe, that is what Rivkah does here. It's the ultimate sacrifice.
Now let's go one step further and ask this question. Is that it? Have we now reached a beginning of the mother bird allusions in the Yaakov and Eisav story? No, if you keep on going backwards through the story you see one more set of allusions, the very beginning of the mother bird imagery in the story. It's in the deception itself. Yes, strangely enough at the deepest moment of deception that's where all this mother bird language starts, and if we really want to understand why it's here in the Yaakov and Eisav story we've got to come to grips with this, where it all begins. We'll do that in our next video. Come with me and let's take a look.
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